United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS; DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO CONSOLIDATE OR AMEND; FURTHER BRIEFING
(Docket No. 23, 25, 26)
RONALD M. WHYTE, District Judge.
Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The court ordered respondent to show cause why the petition should not be granted. Respondent has filed a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust and for ripeness. Petitioner has filed an opposition, and respondent has filed a reply. Petitioner has also filed a motion to consolidate or amend. Respondent has filed an opposition, and petitioner has filed a reply. For the reasons below, the court DENIES respondent's motion to dismiss and DENIES petitioner's motion to consolidate or amend.
In his first amended petition, petitioner claims that his due process rights were violated when he was validated as a gang member in 2009, which resulted in his indefinite placement in the Secured Housing Unit ("SHU"). Petitioner argues that his validation was not supported by some evidence, that the state regulations are vague, that the conditions of being in the SHU have resulted in atypical and significant hardships, and that the validation process was deficient in procedural due process protections. Petitioner requests that his gang validation be overturned, that he be released from the SHU, and that his ability to earn good-time credits be restored.
I. Motion to Dismiss
Respondent argues that petitioner's challenge to his prison-gang validation procedures is not yet ripe for review because petitioner's claims do not impact the duration of petitioner's confinement.
"The ripeness doctrine prevents courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entanglement in theoretical or abstract disagreements that do not yet have a concrete impact on the parties." 18 Unnamed "John Smith" Prisoners v. Meese , 871 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1989). The ripeness inquiry contains both a constitutional and a prudential component. Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n , 220 F.3d 1134, 1138 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). To satisfy the constitutional component there must exist a constitutional case or controversy; the issues must be "definite and concrete, not hypothetical or abstract." Id . at 1139 (quoting Railway Mail Ass'n v. Corsi , 326 U.S. 88, 93 (1945)). In evaluating the prudential component of ripeness, the court considers the fitness of the issue for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding court review. Thomas , 220 F.3d at 1138 (citing Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner , 387 U.S. 136, 149 (1967). "A claim is fit for decision if the issues raised are primarily legal, do not require further factual development, and the challenged action is final.'" Exxon Corp. v. Heinze , 32 F.3d 1399, 1404 (9th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
As an initial matter, it appears that respondent's ripeness argument is actually an argument that petitioner's petition is not cognizable in a habeas corpus petition. Respondent argues that petitioner's "challenge to his prison-gang validation as limiting his ability to earn credits... and thus, impacting the duration of his confinement is not yet ripe for review." Respondent's statement of petitioner's claim is too narrow. Petitioner challenges aspects of his initial gang validation procedure as well as the statutes governing gang validation. One of the effects of being validated as a gang member is the inability to earn good time credits. This stated effect does not make petitioner's allegations about the constitutionality of the gang validation procedure unripe. The court has already rejected the argument that petitioner's challenge is not cognizable in a habeas petition, and determined that petitioner's constitutional claims regarding the validation procedures are likely to accelerate petitioner's eligibility for parole, and could potentially affect the duration of petitioner's confinement. (Docket No. 22.)
Moreover, respondent argues that petitioner's inability to earn good time credits does not directly impact petitioner's sentence until the Board of Parole Hearings determines whether petitioner is suitable for parole. However, petitioner's inability to earn good time credits due to petitioner's validation has extended petitioner's minimum eligibility release date ("MERD"). (MTD at 1 and Ex. 1.) For California prisoners serving a maximum term of life with the possibility of parole, good conduct credits are relevant to the determination of the prisoner's MERD. See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 2400 ("The amount of good conduct credit that a prisoner sentenced for first or second degree murder may earn to reduce the [MERD] is established by statute.... The department will determine the [MERD]. The length of time a prisoner must serve prior to actual release on parole is determined by the board."); cf. Alley v. Carey, No. 09-15328 , 2010 WL 4386827, at *12-*13 (9th Cir. Nov. 5, 2010) (unpublished memorandum disposition) (good time credit affects minimum eligible parole date). Thus, if successful in this petition, petitioner's MERD would be shortened, and would allow petitioner to be eligible for a parole suitability hearing sooner. "[W]hen prison inmates seek only equitable relief in challenging aspects of their parole review that, so long as they prevail, could potentially affect the duration of their confinement, such relief is available under the federal habeas statute." Docken v. Chase , 393 F.3d 1024, 1031 (9th Cir. 2004).
Petitioner's petition presents a constitutional case or controversy. The claims are also fit for decision. Accordingly, the petition is ripe for review.
Respondent argues that petitioner failed to exhaust his claim that his prison gang validation affects his ability to earn good-time credits under California Penal Code § 2933.6 because petitioner did not raise ...